Nitish Kumar happy, at least for now
SUBHASHIS MITTRA - Wide Angle
At least for now, Nitish Kumar is happy. The Bihar chief minister has returned to Patna after meeting a host of opposition leaders to unite them against the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
His happiness was for everyone to see when he drove straight to the residence of Rabri Devi to meet RJD supremo and former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad after his three-day stay in the national capital.
Kumar's plan for now is impressing upon the opposition the need to put up a united front against the BJP.
This is essential in view of the lack of cohesiveness that the opposition had displayed ahead of the elections in 2019, when state-level rivalries had dominated, keeping apart parties like the Congress, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and the Left -- despite much effort from Sharad Pawar and Banerjee.
There was no consensus either on who would be the face to project against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Several leaders are seen as possible faces -- including Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal and despite his assertions to the contrary, Nitish Kumar.
The Bihar CM met Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar in Delhi on his mission to unite the opposition ahead of the 2024 national elections. The chief of Janata Dal United, who ended ties with the BJP last month, met a number of leaders during his visit to Delhi. After Congress's Rahul Gandhi and Janata Dal Secular's HD Kumaraswamy, he met CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI's D Raja, Indian National Lok Dal's Om Prakash Chautala and Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav. He also met CPIML general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, who is also an ally in the state.
The Bihar chief minister said he would come to Delhi again to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who has been travelling abroad for personal reasons.
"I will not be the leader, I will try to unite (the Opposition). The BJP is trying to capture the country. If everyone fights the elections together, then the picture will be different, we are talking to all the people," Kumar told reporters.
I am not a claimant for the post, nor am I desirous of it, he asserted, seeking to deflect questions about a growing buzz within his party for a national role for the Bihar's longest serving chief minister as the opposition's prime ministerial face even though he deflected queries on the issue.
"We will build a main front, not a Third Front," Kumar reiterated during an interaction with reporters.
He said the 2024 general elections will be "very good". "It has been a one-sided contest so far...I have no personal choice. My only wish is that everyone should meet. Together we will choose our leader," he said, on being asked as to who will be the Opposition face against PM Modi in 2024.
Kumar believes that his Delhi visit was successful.
"I am doing my job to unite the opposition leaders and my efforts will continue. I firmly believe that the opposition leaders will be united soon and every one will contribute in fighting against the BJP. The decision on the Prime Ministerial candidate will be final in two to three months. At present, I am not the Prime Ministerial candidate of the opposition parties," Kumar said.
"BJP is now a changed party. It is not the same BJP that it used to be during Atal ji's days. The policies and narratives of BJP has changed now," he said.
After returning to Patna, Kumar apprised Lalu Prasad about the outcome of meetings with different opposition leaders in Delhi. The RJD chief's son Tejashwi Yadav is his deputy in Bihar cabinet.
Meanwhile, amid stepped-up unity efforts by rivals of the saffron party, the BJP top brass set the target of winning a majority of the 144 Lok Sabha seats where it had mostly lost in 2019. The BJP had won 303 of the 543 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
All said and done, Kumar's return to the Opposition fold and his desire to be part of a fight against the BJP is certainly a great signal for Indian politics, though senior BJP leader and former Bihar deputy CM, who has transitioned into a virulent critic of his ex-boss, alleged, "Nitish Kumar has put chameleons to shame in changing colours."